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History on the Plaza | Sonoma, California



I know, it’s been a while since you have seen me here on the blog, and I mean with a post of substance. It has been a very intense few months, or I could even say a very intense year, and I am sure I am not the only one for whom the ride has been rough. I will save the story for another time, while today, for my re-entry post, I want to take you on a little journey in time and space. The space, or location, is one of my long time favorite towns in California, and the time is both present and past (1800), as we will be taking a look at the historic parts of charming Sonoma.




Most of Sonoma’s history can be found right on the beautiful Plaza, pretty much in a straight line. We will start by taking a peek at Mission San Francisco Solano, which is located at the north east corner of the Plaza between E. Spain and 1st Street. The mission, founded on July 4th 1823 by – and I quote – “an overly eager padre acting without church approval” – such Fr. José Altimira, was the 21st and last of the California Missions. The mission was in operation for only eleven years before being secularized, so it does not have the richness and beauty that, for example, the Carmel Mission does (you can view that one at this post).

The Mission, along with the other historic buildings we will see below, is now part of Sonoma State Historic Park. It is around these buildings that the town of Sonoma developed over the years.




The wooden frame outside the church holds one of the original bells, which was cast in 1829.




The interior images above are of the old padres’ quarters, now a museum. The dining room (image just above) now displays a series of mission paintings by Chris Jorgensen created between 1903 and 1905.

Below you can see the Mission church, which is an authentic restoration of the 1840 one, and was rebuilt between 1911 and 1913 with the help of the Historic Landmark League. The most recent restoration was in 1943-44. You can find more information about Mission Solano on Wikipedia and also at this link.




Right across from the Mission is the historic Blue Wing Inn. The Inn, which started as a simple adobe residence in the Pueblo de Sonoma, transformed over time through additions both of rooms and then of a second story, and became one of the first hotels built in the state north of San Francisco. During the California Gold Rush, it was used by miners coming and going from the fields, as well as by U.S. Army soldiers stationed in Sonoma.





As the 1941 plaque on the inn’s wall says: “Erected by General Mariano G. Vallejo about 1840 for the accommodation of emigrants and other travelers. Purchased in Gold Rush days by Cooper and Spriggs, two retired sea-faring men, and operated as hotel and store. Among first hostelries in Northern California, notable guests, according to local tradition, included John C. Fremont, U.S. Grant, Governor Pio Pico, Kit Carson, “Fighting Joe” Hooker, William T. Sherman, Phil Sheridan and members of Bear Flag Party. Classed among the notorious visitors were bandit Murietta and Three-Fingered Jack.” 

More information on the Blue Wing Inn can be found at this Wikipedia link.




Across the street to the left of the Mission you can find the Sonoma Barracks (sometimes called Presidio of Sonoma) and servants quarters. The barracks were built by order of then young Teniente (Lieutenant) Mariano G. Vallejo to house the soldiers transferred there from the Presidio of San Francisco in 1835. Honestly, as I am writing all this, it is easy to step out of history and into fiction and imagine scenes involving Don Diego De La Vega (aka Zorro) and Teniente Garcia.

More Sonoma Barracks history at this Wikipedia link.




Right next to the barracks is the Toscano Hotel and its kitchens. This is a wood-frame building believed to have been built in the 1850s. It originally housed, among other things, a retail store and a rental library. It was only later that it began to be used as an inexpensive hotel, then known as Eureka. The name changed to Toscano when Italian working-class immigrants began to flock to the area and purchased the hotel.

As the plaque on the building says: “Original construction of store, library and dwelling which forms nucleus of this building in 1852 by Nathansons on land previously owned by Vallejo, this property was leased by Leiding to McKeague in 1877 and remodeled to become Eureka Hotel. 1886 Septimo Ciucci and Leonido Quatarolli acquired lease, changing name to the Tuscano Hotel; local usage has altered spelling.”




As you peek through the grate into the Toscano Hotel you can see that it is currently furnished with period furniture and accessories, looking pretty much the way it did around the turn of the century. In the building behind the one facing the plaza are the kitchen and dining room (not pictured).
My big Nikon did not fit through the grate, so I used my iPhone to take the images you see below.




In the image below is a bronze of General Mariano G. Vallejo that can be found across the Toscano Hotel on the Plaza. Vallejo’s home, Lachryma Montis, is located less than a mile west of the plaza. It features furnishings of the Vallejo family, as well as historic gardens, and a visitor center + museum in an adjacent “Chalet”. That will be the subject of another post.




When you have soaked up enough history, you will find Sonoma Plaza rich in refreshment options, and on a hot summer day I would recommend a pit stop at nearby Sweet Scoops for some delicious artisanal ice cream in flavors like fig-lavender and cherry-cabernet. But I will be showing you all of this and more in the next Sonoma post which will take you around the whole Plaza and beyond, showing you all the lovely shopping, sipping and dining options.

Wishing all who celebrate a happy 4th of July/Independence Day for tomorrow!






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